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Today is Valentine’s Day. And while I am all for celebrating love and expressing our love to one another, I somehow doubt that candy hearts, jewelry, or chocolate adequately do so. I also question whether the romantic love between two people is really the epitome of love any way. There are so many expressions of love that run so deep – between family and friends and even members of a church.
In my family, I am definitely not the romantic one. And I am hyper-aware that this year, nearly one year into this pandemic, when so many have been isolated and alone to keep themselves and others safe, that images of gooey, unrealistic, courtly love are just not helpful.
The truth is: Love is hard. It is demanding. It is truth-telling. It is sacrificial.
And as the well-known verses of 1 Corinthians 13 say:
It is patient; kind; not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Friends, these are not easy ways to live or love.
But, love – real love, the love that comes from God and expands our lives and our capacity to care, also never ends. Love is what remains at the end of our day, at the end of a relationship, and even at the end of life. As Amanda Gorman, national youth poet laureate who captivated us all said so beautifully, “Love becomes our legacy… if only we are brave enough to be it.”
Love is our legacy.
And love has the power to transform and transfigure our very selves and the world.
Today is also Transfiguration Sunday. The day when we mark Jesus’s changed appearance upon that mountain.
Since the new year began, there have now been three, what is called, “The Revealing Feast Days” – days when the nature and person of Jesus are revealed to us in a special way.
The first was Epiphany, then Baptism, and now Transfiguration. In each of these, light plays a special part – fitting for something being revealed.
An Episcopalian Bishop [Nicholas Knisley] writes:
Transfiguration does not mean the same thing as the word Transformation. Transformation implies a remaking of the nature of a person or object. Transfiguration implies a revelation of the true nature.
Jesus is not transformed on the Mount that day. …
What happens here is that Jesus stands revealed.
It is as if a mask is taken away from his face,
and the disciples are granted a vision of who he really is,
as God … sees him and loves him.
The disciples are able to see Jesus as he truly is, the way God sees Jesus and the way God loves Jesus.
In both the baptism and the transfiguration, God claims Jesus saying: “This is my child, my Beloved.”
Knowing and experiencing God’s love for him, Jesus, after his baptism, goes to the wilderness for forty days and forty nights to be tempted by Sa-tan, the Adversary.
Knowing and experiencing God’s love for him, Jesus, after the transfiguration, sets his destination for Jerusalem, teaching and healing all the way there, knowing what awaits him when he arrives is persecution, crucifixion, death and eventually, resurrection.
I believe that the profound experience of God’s love allowed Jesus to endure, overcome, and ultimately transform the world for good.
And I believe that the profound experience of God’s love will allow us to endure, overcome, and ultimately transform the world for good.
Love, even imperfect human love, can be transformative.
My parents are first generation immigrants from Korea. We share a language barrier and cultural differences. And to survive, they worked a lot when I was growing up,
so we weren’t able to spend a whole lot of time together.
They pretty much trusted me to do the right thing when I was left alone to my own devices as a latchkey kid in the 90s. I would say, overall, I was a pretty good kid.
I got good grades; I loved going to church; I was fairly responsible.
But I was also pretty sneaky and had a bit of a rebellious streak which peaked in middle school. A couple of friends and I were caught stealing ridiculous trinkets at a store at the mall, and our parents were called.
My parents, who worked twelve hours a day, left work to come get me. And I expected to be yelled at, to be in huge trouble.
But my parents picked me up and lavished me with love. They asked if I was okay. They asked if I needed money. They wondered why and how I was put in this circumstance
because they believed that at the core of who I was, I wasn’t someone who steals.
And so, rather than punishing my behavior, they covered me with grace and love
and tried to figure out why I had put myself in that position.
I don’t think there was a profound answer to why except that I was young, and sometimes foolish, and wanted a cheap thrill and to fit in with friends.
But let me know tell you, the way my parents responded to that incident made me want to be who they thought I already was.
I never stole anything ever again.
It wasn’t that they taught me a lesson I would never forget. It was that their love helped reveal to me who I was and who I could be. It transfigured me.
And that was my parents’ imperfect, sometimes complicated, often too exhausted to express, love for me.
And so imagine, God’s love, pure and unending, abundant and unconditional, delighting in who we are, in how we are each uniquely created, claiming us as God’s own beloved child. Imagine, how that love transfigures us to transform the world.
Marshall Scott, another Episcopalian priest writes:
“Jesus was transfigured, not transformed …
He was no more and no less divine because they beheld him in glory;
and he was no more and no less human, either.
We might say the disciples saw “the real Jesus,”
in seeing him as he could be seen in the Kingdom;
but he was still the same Jesus they’d walked with up the mountain.
He wasn’t somehow a different sort of being.
By the same token, living in the light of the Lord doesn’t transform us,
doesn’t make us more or less human.
However, it can transfigure us…
We, too, can reflect the light, the glory of the Lord;
and with time and discipline we can reflect that glory more brightly.
We don’t expect to be fully transfigured until we meet again in God’s Kingdom; but in the meantime we can work on our own capacity to reflect the glory of God.
[This week, we begin Lent with Ash Wednesday.]
[And] That’s what Lent is about, in a way. …
The discipline of Lent isn’t about reshaping us into someone,
It’s about buffing us, polishing us, so that the glory of Christ,
already present in our lives, is more clearly reflected in the world around us.”
But we can’t do that by staying on the mountaintop. The disciples actually suggested doing just that, to build some dwellings and stay there on that mountain.
It might be nice, and it sure is necessary every now and then, but it is not what we are called to do and who we are called to be indefinitely.
We have to go down the mountain. We have to walk down Fillmore in both directions.
We must encounter the world in all its pain and destruction and hate and fear in order to truly make a difference with love.
Humans of New York is now both a book and a social media project that highlights pictures and the stories of everyday people. In one post it shared someone’s philosophy that has stuck with me.
He said, “My worldview is this: ‘At all times, people are doing one of two things.
They’re showing love. Or they’re crying out for it.’”
This world hinges on love, cries out for it desperately and shows it in courageous and remarkable ways.
Our love is not perfect, but it is enough because God can use it, multiply it, and transfigure it to transform the world.
Courtney A. Walsh writes a letter to us humans about love, and it hangs on the wall in my office because I need this reminder again and again.
Hear now this love letter written to you:
You’ve got it all wrong. You didn’t come here to master unconditional love.
This is where you came from and where you’ll return.
You came here to learn personal love.
Universal love. Messy love.
Sweaty Love. Crazy love.
Broken love. Whole love.
Infused with divinity. Lived through the grace of stumbling.
Demonstrated through the beauty of… messing up. Often.
You didn’t come here to be perfect, you already are.
You came here to be gorgeously human. Flawed and fabulous.
And rising again into remembering.
But unconditional love? Stop telling that story.
Love in truth doesn’t need any adjectives.
It doesn’t require modifiers.
It doesn’t require the condition of perfection.
It only asks you to show up.
And do your best.
That you stay present and feel fully.
That you shine and fly and laugh and cry and hurt and heal and fall
and get back up and play and work and live and die as YOU.
Friends, love fiercely and with abandon. Choose love again and again. Remember that “justice is what love looks like in public,” (Cornell West), and remember that your transfiguration reveals what God has known and has been telling us all along:
“You are beloved.”
From a Black Rock Prayer Book:
The world now is too dangerous
and too beautiful for anything but love.
May your eyes be so blessed you see God in everyone.
Your ears, so you hear the cry of the poor.
May your hands be so blessed
that everything you touch is a sacrament.
Your lips, so you speak nothing but the truth with love.
May your feet be so blessed you run
to those who need you.
And may your heart be so opened,
so set on fire, that your love,
your love, changes everything.
Amen and amen.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
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